Transcriptomic signatures and repurposing drugs for COVID-19 patients: findings of bioinformatics analyses

Comput Struct Biotechnol J. 2021;19:1-15. doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2020.11.056. Epub 2020 Dec 6.


The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is damaging the world's social and economic fabrics seriously. Effective drugs are urgently needed to decrease the high mortality rate of COVID-19 patients. Unfortunately, effective antiviral drugs or vaccines are currently unavailable. Herein, we systematically evaluated the effect of SARS-CoV-2 on gene expression of both lung tissue and blood from COVID-19 patients using transcriptome profiling. Differential gene expression analysis revealed potential core mechanism of COVID-19-induced pneumonia in which IFN-α, IFN-β, IFN-γ, TNF and IL6 triggered cytokine storm mediated by neutrophil, macrophage, B and DC cells. Weighted gene correlation network analysis identified two gene modules that are highly correlated with clinical traits of COVID-19 patients, and confirmed that over-activation of immune system-mediated cytokine release syndrome is the underlying pathogenic mechanism for acute phase of COVID-19 infection. It suggested that anti-inflammatory therapies may be promising regimens for COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, drug repurposing analysis of thousands of drugs revealed that TNFα inhibitor etanercept and γ-aminobutyric acid-B receptor (GABABR) agonist baclofen showed most significant reversal power to COVID-19 gene signature, so we are highly optimistic about their clinical use for COVID-19 treatment. In addition, our results suggested that adalimumab, tocilizumab, rituximab and glucocorticoids may also have beneficial effects in restoring normal transcriptome, but not chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine or interferons. Controlled clinical trials of these candidate drugs are needed in search of effective COVID-19 treatment in current crisis.